Where do fossil fuels come from?


With fossil fuels – their costs and their toll on the environment – controlling our lives, GreenDustries thought it would behoove us to take a look at the major forms of fossil fuels and where they come from and the delicate balance of nature that falls in between.

There are three major forms of fossil fuels: coal, oil and natural gas. All three were formed many hundreds of millions of years ago before the time of the dinosaurs – hence the name fossil fuels, according to the website energyquest.ca.gov. The age they were formed is called the Carboniferous Period. It was part of the Paleozoic Era. “Carboniferous” gets its name from carbon, the basic element in coal and other fossil fuels.

The Carboniferous Period occurred from about 360 to 286 million years ago. At the time, the land was covered with swamps filled with huge trees, ferns and other large leafy plants, similar to the picture above. The water and seas were filled with algae – the green stuff that forms on a stagnant pool of water. Algae is actually millions of very small plants,” the site relates.

Some deposits of coal can be found during the time of the dinosaurs. For example, thin carbon layers can be found during the late Cretaceous Period (65 million years ago) – the time of Tyrannosaurus Rex. But the main deposits of fossil fuels are from the Carboniferous Period, according to the Energy Quest site As the trees and plants died, they sank to the bottom of the swamps of oceans. They formed layers of a spongy material called peat. Over many hundreds of years, the peat was covered by sand and clay and other minerals, which turned into a type of rock called sedimentary.

More and more rock piled on top of more rock, and it weighed more and more. It began to press down on the peat. The peat was squeezed and squeezed until the water came out of it and it eventually, over millions of years, it turned into coal, oil or petroleum, and natural gas.

Fossil fuels take millions of years to make. And the problem, of course, is that humans are using up the fuels that were made more than 300 million years ago before the time of the dinosaurs.

Once these fuels are gone, like the dinosaurs, they are gone. They are not renewable and they can’t be made again.

Finding alternative sources of energy while conserving energy has got to be paramount to any energy plan the United States proposes. What the earth gave us millions of years ago is but a tiny fraction of the waste and pollution we have created since. GreenDustries asks everyone to take a moment to understand how important it is to change direction.

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